Teachers know that most adolescents lack motivation to read, both academically and recreationally, yet we can see how crucial it is for students to develop reading interest and stamina in order to become competent readers and flourishing adults.
Push for Choice Reading ≠ Push back on Whole-Class Novels
As a kid, like most of you, whole-class novels built up the entirety of my ELA curriculum; however, there was (and still is) a huge push across the last decade or so for more independent choice reading. Yet as with most things in education, with that push, it’s obvious that there has been an even more recent reactionary, theoretical pendulum swing back towards more rigorous, shared texts, inspired by the CCSS or otherwise.
Unfortunately, when English departments try to operate from these competing and drastically swinging philosophies, this further inhibits adolescents from becoming life-long readers. And—I’m sure you’re know it yourself—these intelligent and experienced English colleagues never seem to get anywhere because they’re knee-deep in the debate.
It’s frustrating—I’m saying this in the most mild-mannered sense, because trust me when I say that some days I’m beyond frustrated—because there is some much literature out there that presents competing and often misunderstood theoretical perspectives.
If you’re reading this blog, than you’re probably just like me, a self-proclaimed, literacy professional literature junkie. You love studying the craft and working to foster adolescent literacy. You’ve read everything from Rosenblatt, Krashen, Allington, Beers & Probst, Lesesne, Schmoker, Fisher & Frey, Gallagher, Allen, Burke, Harvey & Goudvis, Keene, Marzano, Kittle, Newkirk, Routman, Smith, Tovani, Miller, and on and on and on. You’ve read it all.
The thing is these texts should work to inform our knowledge of adolescent literacy and thus impact our classrooms.
Instead stakeholders (other teachers, coaches, administrators, parents, publishers, politicians, etc.) take these sometimes competing philosophies and—rather than take what these researchers have to say and find a balanced approach—use them to make drastic, one-sided decisions that have long-term impact on students.
Philosophy < Research
Sadly, this dispute of philosophy begins to ignore the canon of research and slip slides its way into the classroom, appearing as very heated English department debates, Twitter battles, and blog rants (maybe a bit feisty like this one!).
One side calls for more rigor that whole-class novels provide. The other side bemoans the disparity of voluminous reading that only choice novels can offer.
Teachers question whether novels should be shared as a whole-class texts or if students should freely chose novels according to their own interests and plans for growth.
Instead these stakeholders should be discussing ways to find balance between them.
Your Turn . . .
In a dispute that has very loud voices on either end, it may be unpopular to ask stakeholders to “chill out” and just seek some balance, but I encourage you to share the research you’ve read and experiences you’ve collected in your own classroom. I want to expand the conversation about whole-class novels and choice-only reading. I’ll do my part and try to translate the vast body of research on both “sides” of this debate.
There’s no need for the literacy pendulum to keep swinging when there is still so much work for us to do.
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